They were separated from their parents, shipped across the country and, for the last two months, secretly spent their days in an East Harlem foster care center.
But now, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will work hard to get the 239 separated immigrant children being cared for by the Cayuga Center on Park Avenue back to their parents as soon as possible.
“These children are coming here, and the professionals we met with made clear, that this has been a traumatic process for a lot of these kids,” the mayor said. “The mental health issues alone, they made clear to us, are very real, very painful.”
De Blasio spent 40 minutes visiting the facility on Wednesday afternoon following an NY1 report from earlier in the morning that showed Latina children entering and exiting the facility around midnight.
Mayor inside Cayuga Center, meeting with senior staff and the CEO (via teleconference). Will brief public shortly. pic.twitter.com/R0Pq2nKo2N— Eric Phillips (@EricFPhillips) June 20, 2018
The nonprofit, which appeared to be kid-friendly with drawings and stickers posted to a corkboard in the building’s window, does not house the children overnight but does provide services during the day.
The children were placed in foster homes by the federal government without the city’s knowledge, according to the mayor’s office.
The center is one of several undisclosed nonprofits in the city contracted by the federal government to supervise the separated children. It has taken in 350 kids since the policy began in April, according to the mayor, who added the youngest child to be brought there was just nine months old.
Children have arrived at the nonprofit not just with mental health issues but physical ailments as well, including lice, bedbugs and chickenpox.
“What is happening here? How is it possible that none of us knew that there were 239 kids right here in our city? How is the federal government holding back that information from the people of this city and holding back the help that these kids could need?” an outraged de Blasio demanded.
Cayuga didn’t return messages for comment; de Blasio said it is cooperating with the city.
“This is an organization that we know and the city of New York has worked with them all of the time . . . but we want to monitor the situation closely,” the mayor added.
The City’s Administration for Children’s Services said the agency only oversees foster care and foster homes due to child abuse and neglect in the city and not cases conducted through federal contracts.
ACS Commissioner David Hansell, who toured the facility with the mayor, said because of that arrangement, they did not know as of Wednesday evening when or how the displaced children residing in the city will be reunited now that the president has signed an executive order reversing the child separation aspect of the zero-tolerance immigration policy.
“This is something that’s determined by the federal government. We have no involvement in the unaccompanied children program,” he said.
Twenty-three members of the City Council, meanwhile, signed a letter sent to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Guardian Services on Wednesday demanding a tour of three facilities in the Bronx suspected of housing immigrant children who were taken from their parents.
The Trump administration has faced severe backlash in recent days over its policy to separate immigrant families caught trying to enter the United States illegally at the Mexico border.
While Trump has defended the policy on multiple occasions, he signed an executive order on Wednesday that allows the families to be detained together and gives parents with children precedence in immigration proceedings.
De Blasio, who was headed to the Texas border town of Tornillo Wednesday afternoon to meet with other mayors from around the country, said he will believe Trump’s policy has been reversed when all of the families affected by it have been reunited.
“That’s the simple measure, when every single family is reunited, then I will believe in the executive order,” he added.